WELCOME to the fortnightly series of articles focusing on red meat R&D, presented by Beef Central and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation. These items will highlight a range of projects designed to enhance the efficiency, productivity, product quality and safety of Australian red meat sold into the domestic market and around the world.
All have the ability to help underpin Australia’s unrivalled reputation as the world’s premier export of quality beef, lamb and offal. Links to previous articles in the series appear at the bottom of this page.
IMPROVING safety and reducing workplace fatigue and injury are high priorities for the Australian Meat Processor Corporation the research body for the red meat processing sector – and that means a big focus on the way staff use technology and tools within processing plants.
Increasing safety around critical processing tools, like saws, is not just about how workers use them. Sometimes it’s about how they can avoid using them at all.
Increasing safety (and productivity) is being approached through three complementary parallel paths: full automation, semi-automation and where neither of these is possible, task safety.
One of the semi-automated enablers is termed ‘shadow robotics’, where the human worker doesn’t engage directly with the saw or device at all.
What is shadow robotics?
A shadow robot is able to precisely mimic human actions, meaning it is ideally suited to tasks where human dexterity or skill is required, but where it’s better, often for safety reasons, if a person does not have to perform the task directly.
Why is this worth pursuing for the red meat industry?
AMPC has vision to remove all operational staff from potentially dangerous devices including bandsaws, and as part of its core research program it is currently exploring the potential of pairing an employee with a ‘shadow’ robot-enabled device in the production room. This would leverage the skills of operational staff while removing their hands from the dangerous tasks such as bandsaw operations.
If this proves successful, the hope is that this technology may see processors adopt this type of approach at all Australian processing facilities. But it could even go further, with those operational staff eventually housed in control rooms away from the processing floor.
Ultimately, it could even be that operational staff may not need to be on-site at all, and instead able to operate equipment remotely. This would not only improve safety but make it possible for a wider range of staff members, including those who are less physically strong and those not located on site, to be trained in new roles.
Where will the tech come from?
As with many advances in processing, the answer may come from inside the sector – or it may not. It is quite likely that the best option may be the adaptation of technology that is already in development for other industries. Highly advanced shadow robot hands are in use at NASA and major universities, and shadow and remote robotics are at the leading edge of surgery technology.
AMPC is, and will continue to work closely with potential providers to ensure the work they do is suited to the processing sector.
At this early stage, AMPC is taking a broad view around what the final solution might look like, and is open to suggestions including designs that incorporate virtual or augmented reality, in addition to tele-remote operated joysticks and arms, and haptic gloves.
The search for a shadow robotic solution is one of many AMPC Innovation Challenges currently underway.
Want to know more?
If you are or know a solution provider or developer, AMPC is keen to discuss how it might offer financial support to demonstrate and evolve an offering in meat processing environments. The successful developer may have a background in robotics, automation, machinery, engineering or something else entirely.
Talk to Sean Starling, Stuart Shaw or Amanda Carter at AMPC.
- In our next update we’ll be talking about happenings at last month’s Beef Australia 2021 event in Rockhampton.
Previous articles in this series:
- Frenched lamb – no knives, no water
- Could a futuristic exo-skeleton create new opportunity in the meat sector?
- Red Meat R&D: Upping our game in processing efficiency
- Magnetic conveying could leverage high-speed train technology for beef